I was a long way from home on the other side of the world, just travelling like a lot of young people did. I was exploring how other people, different from me, lived; seeing different cultures in the raw, experiencing new things. But I got a bit more than I bargained for the day I stole a Smart phone.
I was in a crowded market, packed elbow to elbow with hundreds, thousands possibly, of people when I saw my chance. One stall completely open to the elements was stacked high with every conceivable gadget. There was the latest from Apple, Sony’s newest wizardry all within hand’s reach. Back home these things would be locked behind glass and security guards would be standing close by.
Here, on a market stall in the back of beyond they were there for the picking. They were knock-off counterfeits, I guessed that, but even so who could resist having the very latest Smart phone? I wanted one, but I could not afford it, so I decided to steal it.
I cased the joint, as criminals of the past probably never said, and saw there were only two people attending the stall and they were constantly busy dealing with customers. It would be easy. I joined a crowd of customers pushing and shoving against the stall and bided my time. Then, when I was sure the stallholders could not see me, I sneaked a phone into my pocket and casually walked away.
I surprised myself. I was coolness itself. I had no nerves at all. A snatch theft, perfectly executed. Or so I thought.
Moments later there were two policemen, one on each of my shoulders. The police station was only a couple of minutes away and I soon found myself seated on a long, hard, wooden bench outside an office with a faded sign: Inspector.
I was not so cool now. A witness had seen me stealing the phone and now I would face the full force of the law. The police station was crowded; I was not the only thief they had captured that day. Soon the bench became quite crowded. There were two boys, young men really, dressed in school uniform, looking a bit odd in their khaki short trousers and a well-dressed man somewhere in his late twenties.
The two schoolboys were engaged in animated conversation, they seemed quite agitated, but I could not speak their language so had no idea what they were saying. The man just stared at the dirty floor tiles beneath his feet.
After what seemed like hours, but was probably only five minutes, the man was called into the Inspector’s office. After a few minutes, he came out, looking shocked, and a police constable led him away.
Then it was the turn of the schoolboys. They were called in together (obviously partners in crime) and they too exited after some minutes and were led away. One of the boys appeared to be crying.
Then, it was my turn. The Inspector’s office was small and dirty. He sat behind a small ramshackle wooden desk. In front of it were two beaten up chairs, one had a ripped seat cover and dirty sponge poked out.
The Inspector was exhausted; he looked like he had not shaved for a week, and I could smell he was in dire need of a shower.
He waved to me to sit down and wearily he looked at me across the desk. He seemed surprised to see me there. He did not see many foreigners in his office, he told me. He spoke to me as if I was a half-wit, and only later did I discover that foreigners who were caught up to no good by the police generally slipped the arresting constable a couple of US dollars and they went away.
If I had known the protocol I would never have had to face the ordeal that I would remember for the rest of my life.
The Inspector was in no mood for small talk. He read the charge sheet: theft of a phone. I did not deny it. He did not ask why I did it. If he had all I could say was I stole it because I wanted it and I thought I could get away with it. It was a gadget; it was not as if I had been starving and had stolen food to eat.
The Inspector looked one more time at the charge sheet and then stared me straight in the eye; I could smell his rancid breath.
“I can give you a choice,” he said, “In this city offenders can be given an ‘off the record’ caning for minor offences such as these. No records of your crime will be kept. We like it because it reduces police paperwork and court time.”
I must have looked dumbfounded and the Inspector must have felt he needed to sell the idea to me some more, “You could go to the Magistrate and possibly get a fine, or perhaps go to prison for a few days.”
I knew I could not pay a fine and the thought of prison horrified me; how would inmates treat a young foreigner like me? But, could I endure a caning as an alternative?
Before I had a chance to respond, the Inspector was talking again. “Think yourself lucky,” he smiled, but he was not joking, “In some parts of this country they would cut off your hand for stealing.”
I was silent, not knowing what to say. What would a caning be like? Corporal punishment back home had been confined to the dustbin of history. Would it be like in the olden days? Bend over touch your toes while the headmaster whacked a whippy cane into the seat of your trousers?
The Inspector was getting impatient; he had many more ‘customers’ to see before his shift would end. “You have no choice really do you?” he said, not unkindly.
No, no choice, I agreed.
A constable came and took me to another building on the police compound. He opened the door and bluntly told me to go inside. It was a big room and at the far end there was a door.
Standing there was the well-dressed man I had seen earlier, but now he was completely naked. A policeman gave me a plastic bag and ordered me to take off all my clothes.
I asked why I had to take my clothes off.
The policeman said, “Cane is on bare bottom.”
In all my imaginations, it had not occurred to me that the caning would be bare. I was wearing denim jeans cut off above the knee and I had supposed the thick material would have given me some protection against the cane and it would not hurt too much.
The policeman pushed the bag at me, forcing me to take it. “Get on with it. Do you want extra strokes?”
I took the bag and undressed. I was very embarrassed. Nobody ever saw me naked; I only took my clothes off to have a shower.
When I was naked, the outer door opened again and the two schoolboys were brought in. They also were forced to strip. Soon, there were four of us naked awaiting our punishment.
After about five minutes the other door opened and a man wearing an Inspector’s uniform came in. We were told to go through the door.
It was a small open yard with brick walls. There was a sort of a narrow bench with a leather top in the shape of upside down V. Beside it there was another policeman holding a Malacca cane. From where I stood it looked awesome. It was probably a little more than three feet long and although it was about as thick as a pencil, it was extremely supple. I felt my legs wobble at the thought of that thing slashing into my naked buttocks.
The Inspector called the man over to the bench. He had to lean right over it. It must have been very shameful for him as we could see all privates. The Inspector nodded to the policeman who walked over to the bench, raised up the cane, then whipped it across the man’s bottom.
He shrieked. The Inspector nodded and the policeman whipped him again. The man stayed quiet this time but I saw his body go tense. After the next stroke he cried out a little bit more and he did the same for the next two strokes. He was then allowed to stand up.
Then it was turn of the first of the two schoolboys. He went over the bench affecting calmness. After the first stroke he just gasped and on the second one he cried out. The third one brought tears to his eyes. The policeman waited a few seconds then gave the fourth stroke. The boy cried out something that I could not understand. He seemed to be pleading for the beating to stop.
Then a fifth stroke lashed into his buttocks and he was allowed to get up trembling and sobbing.
Then it was the turn of the other schoolboy, the smaller of the boys, the one I had seen crying earlier. He bent over the bench but after first stroke he stood up again rubbing his bottom. The policeman ordered him to bend over again, but he was crying and refusing. The Inspector and policeman grabbed him, put handcuffs on him behind his back then bent him over the bench again. The Inspector held his shoulders down while the strokes were given. The boy screamed every time, it was terrible noise. When he got up and had the handcuffs taken away he just walked about sobbing and rubbing his bottom.
Then it was my turn. I think that going last was the worst. I bent over the bench and it felt so shameful as everybody could see my bottom and my private parts. I screwed my eyes up tight, every muscle a vice of tension awaiting the coming onslaught. The moment seemed to go on forever.
‘Yeowww!’ I shrieked out in shock and pain. The policeman raised his right arm high and brought the cane down with tremendous power again in a mighty stroke. I was panting and could hardly breathe. I tried to stand up but the policeman just pushed me back over the bench. He whipped me again, any effort I was making to maintain some self-control and dignity collapsed and I burst into floods of tears, yelling out my anguish uncontrollably, tears now pouring down my cheeks.
The fourth one was not as hard as the others, then after that I heard the policeman whispering to the Inspector and I hoped it was over. I had started to relax, then the last lash came. I screamed out and then the policeman tapped my shoulder and told me to get up.
We were sent back inside again. The schoolboys were still sobbing. We had to wait for about five minutes, still naked, before another policeman came back with our clothes. We were then allowed to get dressed and go home.
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second